Founded in 1891 the Lister Institute has operated as a very successful medical research charity for over 100 years. During this time it has moved from being the only UK medical research charity to one of many. It has also moved from being a highly successful producer of vaccines and antitoxins to being one of the pioneers in research fellowship schemes in the UK.
From rabies, through nutrition and vitamins, to blood products and then molecular biology and DNA fingerprinting, the Institute has been involved. More recently, Lister Research Fellows have been important contributors to the scientific literature in areas of molecular biology, genetics and development. The new Prize Fellows will doubtless move the Institute into other new and developing areas over time. In fact, the flexibility and responsiveness of the Institute gives every promise that the Lister Institute will long continue to make a substantial contribution to biomedical research. This may not be in the way its founders envisaged, but nonetheless it is highly effective with its radical adaptation to modern circumstances.
The Institute is administered by a small Governing Body of twelve Governors. In addition there is a prestigious Scientific Advisory Committee, an Investment sub-Committee and professional external advisers. Perhaps, more strikingly, there is also a community of current and former Lister Fellows throughout academia who meet on an annual basis and increasingly network and collaborate. Perhaps a measure of the recent success of the Institute is the fact that more than 60% of former Fellows now hold Chairs of one description or another. The Institute is also a member of the Association of Medical Research Charities (AMRC) and as such follows their advice and guidance on such matters as peer review and animal experimentation.
Research Strategy - Charitable Objective
"To further understanding and progress in preventive medicine by promoting excellence in biomedical research in the UK and Republic of Ireland"
The Lister Institute of Preventive Medicine has had a long and distinguished history of supporting biomedical research since its foundation in 1891, essentially falling into two phases. Originally established as a research institute specialising in the area of 'infections' and their prevention by immunisation and other means it had the dual roles of both undertaking fundamental research and also of producing and supplying materials such as vaccines and antitoxins. The Institute continued in this mode until the early 1970s when increasing financial and regulatory pressures caused both the closure of its laboratories in Chelsea and its production facilities at Elstree.
Lister Senior Fellowships
The decision was taken that the greatest contribution that the Lister could make was through the establishment of the Lister Senior Fellowship scheme which supported generously for five years, high quality individuals and their research, at a formative period in their careers. This was an innovative scheme, testimony to which was the high quality of the Fellows and their subsequent achievements and contributions to the UK's biomedical research effort. From its start to its closure to new entries in 2002 ninety-five Fellows have been supported. More details on the early history of the Lister Institute can be found in Leslie Collins' fascinating history of the Lister Institute (1) and its subsequent supplements.
A New Funding Scheme
In 2002 the Lister was again faced with the task of developing a funding scheme(s) which fulfilled its charitable objectives, was both affordable and sustainable and met a need in the research environment. The view was that the Lister could only operate a single scheme which had a defined financial commitment but, importantly, one which replicated some of the characteristics which had contributed to the success of the Senior Fellowships. Amongst these were:-
the support of high quality individuals at a crucial stage in their careers generous and flexible funding
available to both science and medically trained individuals
available within any appropriate UK or Republic of Ireland research environment/establishment
available across all disease types and research disciplines
research which has the potential for the prevention or treatment of disease
Against this background the Lister Institute Research Prize Fellowship scheme was devised and launched in 2004. It is currently the Lister's only way of funding biomedical research and is therefore the sole arm of our research strategy.
WHY THE LISTER INSTITUTE FUNDS RESEARCH
The Lister Institute funds research because it believes that the acquisition and advancement of knowledge is crucial to our understanding of health and disease. Further that the development and exploitation of these research outcomes will lead to new strategies for the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of disease.
HOW THE LISTER INSTITUTE FUNDS RESEARCH
The Lister Institute believes that research is driven forward by high quality individuals and their supporting staff. Therefore identifying such key researchers and providing them with appropriate support at crucial stages in their careers is critical to the maintenance and development of a high quality and internationally competitive research community in the UK and Republic of Ireland. Consequently the Lister will target its funding to the support of individual researchers.
The Lister further believes that any funding which it provides to individuals should be flexible in terms of how it is applied to the research activity, of sufficient value to 'make a difference' to the researcher's activities, and that the processes for application, review and award should be as un-bureaucratic as possible, commensurate with appropriate levels of scrutiny and evaluation.
The Lister is very much aware of the large number of agencies that support biomedical research in the UK and Republic of Ireland and the variety of methods by which they do so. It also appreciates that there are many routes for the provision of salaries for high quality researchers. The Lister also appreciates that, of necessity, much of the research funding is prescriptive in terms of the area of research or the use of the monies. The Lister, therefore, wishes its own funding scheme(s) to be complementary to this large 'background' funding and to enhance research opportunities by providing freedom to recipients in the use of its Prize award.
The Lister also wishes to ensure that any funding scheme is financially sustainable, does not build up future financial commitments and meets the Institute's desire to match expenditure with income (derived from the return on the Lister's investments). We also recognize that there may be opportunities for partnership with other agencies in broadening our funding scheme(s).
This overall funding strategy will be achieved by the provision of Lister Institute Research Prize Fellowships which will make one-off awards of £200,000 to individuals to be spent on any aspect of their research activities (with the exception of personal salary).
The Lister Institute will seek to ensure that not only are high quality individuals and their research supported through the Prize Fellowship scheme, but that mechanisms are in place to make certain that the outcomes of their research are developed for public benefit.
WHAT RESEARCH THE LISTER INSTITUTE FUNDS
The Lister Institute will support research in any area of biomedicine, or related discipline; there are no priority areas or diseases. The Lister would hope that the knowledge gained from the research activity might lead to a better understanding of the disease state, its diagnosis, treatment or prevention. However we recognise that the full impact of any knowledge gained from research may be difficult to predict and that the timescale over which any widely applicable beneficial outcome might be achieved could be long-term and might be dependent on the outcome of other research activities.
WHO THE LISTER INSTITUTE FUNDS
The Lister Institute Research Prize Fellowship swill be available to any tenured or non-tenured researcher (scientist or clinician) working in an eligible UK or Irish institution provided that their personal salary is secure, from another source, for a minimum of the first three years of the award. The recipient need not be a UK national but must have a position in a UK
or Republic of Ireland institution for the first three years of the award. There is no age restriction, but the individual must, at the time of taking up the award, have a minimum of three or a maximum of ten year's research experience, allowance will be made for career breaks etc. The individual may also concurrently hold awards such as a fellowship or programme / project grant(s) from other organisations / agencies or be employed by them.
WHERE THE LISTER INSTITUTE WILL FUND RESEARCH
The Lister Institute Research Prize Fellowships may be held by individuals holding positions in any UK or Republic of Ireland research institution, which is deemed 'not-for-profit', (this might be a university, a hospital clinical department, MRC Unit or Research Institute, whether independent or charity-funded). Where the research dictates, a period of the award may be spent working abroad (but not more than six months in any consecutive 12-month period and in total no more than one year over the course of the first three years).
HOW THE LISTER WILL MAKE FUNDING DECISIONS
The Lister Institute will select its Research Prize Fellows by assessment of written application and interview of short-listed candidates by members of its Scientific Advisory Committee. Members of the SAC will initially score all applications to generate a long-list of candidates whose applications will then be sent to national and international experts for detailed review. The selection of short-listed candidates by SAC members will be based on these reviews and their own assessments. Short-listed candidates, usually no more than eight, will be interviewed by the SAC and, as a part of this process, will make a brief presentation.
The Lister Institute Research Prize Fellowships not only seek to recognise and support high quality research and future proposals but also to reward a significant contribution to the applicant's research area, commensurate with his/her age and experience. Candidates are able to provide both a supporting statement from their Head of Department (or equivalent) and a review from a nominated referee familiar with their work.
Applications are normally submitted in December for possible interview in the following May and commencement of any award in October. The Lister does allow re-application provided a candidate remains within the eligibility criteria.
THE TIMEFRAME FOR THE CURRENT STRATEGY
Funding for the Prize Fellowship scheme commenced in 2004 and will operate initially for five years, during which period at least 15 Fellows will have been supported. It will then be subject to a formal review to assess that:
(a) the assumptions made about the impact of the scheme, the needs of the research community and the research environment are still applicable.
(b) it has fulfilled its objectives.
(c) the continuation of the scheme is justified.
The number of Prize Fellowships awarded annually and their value will be considered each year and may be adjusted to match the Lister Institute's financial situation.
FURTHER INFORMATION ON PRIZE FELLOWSHIPS
Details of the funding scheme are sent annually to appropriate departments in universities, medical schools and research institutes as well as to relevant Royal Colleges and Research Councils.
(1) Collier L., The Lister Institute of Preventive Medicine. A Concise History. The Lister Institute of Preventive Medicine. 2000, Supplement 2004.